Pick a Peck of Michigan Apples
When the weather gets crisp, it’s time to pick my annual quota of fresh apples. It’s one of the rites of fall for our family. Even as empty-nesters, I drag my husband out to a local orchard before the weather changes. It’s a wonderful day trip. In Michigan, you can drive almost in any direction and find a grove with some of the 9.2 million apple trees in our state.
One of our favorite orchards is Glei’s Orchard and Greenhouses in Hillsdale. It is one of those wonderful family farms, first started in 1918 by Alma Glei and her son Carl. The original 40 acres has now grown to an operation of more than 300 acres.
They grow more than 30 varieties of apples and have diversified their business to include perennials, annuals, Christmas trees, flowers and vegetables. Now, I don’t have to drive to Hillsdale to get sample their apples; I can go to their new retail outlet in Coldwater. The new store is a farm market, greenhouse and bakery. Nothing beats a fresh-made doughnut and a glass of cider.
Doughnuts are also the highlight of another favorite orchard, the Country Mill in Charlotte. Pumpkin doughnuts are my choice here. It’s also one of the closet U-Pick orchards. You can pick a half-bushel for $13, and that’s about 21 pounds of these little red (and yellow) gems.
We went out on a recent Saturday and could have spent a full day in various activities, although we have aged out of the petting zoo and the train ride. My husband especially liked the wine tasting with apple, blueberry and cherry wine. His favorite, though, was the hard cider. In the next few weeks there are seven different varieties ready to pick: Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Liberty, Crimson Crisp, Ida Red, Northern Spy and Spigold. Who even knew there were so many different kinds of apples, all with their own special taste and texture?
I don’t think you could pick a bad farm to visit, but another favorite is the Dexter Cider Mill, near Ann Arbor. The mill sits on the banks of the Huron River, and its claim to fame is that it is the oldest continuously operating cider mill in Michigan. They make cider the same way it was made 120 years ago, using an oak rack press. The natural cider is wonderful, and they also make apple pies right at the mill.
I did have one bad apple experience — all of my own doing. I was positive I could use a full bushel of apples, between pies, applesauce and my best project idea, apple wreaths. I made as many apple dishes as I could, until my family said “no more.”
Then, I turned to making charming apple wreathes for my extended family members. I followed the directions — slicing apples, and then sewing them together into cute little circles of goodness. It took all day.
I set about 15 of these out to dry. I have never been sure what step I missed, but within a day, they were all moldy.
If you are really feeling ambitious, the Michigan Apple Growers offer several apple tour routes in every region of the state. The closest one to us will take you through 135 miles of orchards and country roads in Van Buren and Berrien counties. Eight different orchards comprise the circular route from Bangor to St. Joseph. You can check out all the routes at michiganappletours.com.
The apple growers have also started a Facebook campaign this month, “Take Back the Fall,” #MIapples, where apple-lovers can vote on their favorite type of apple along with a photo of their favorite way to enjoy apples.
Support our local farmers and spend a day visiting a local apple orchard, or two or three.